The U.S. military is aware of at least one "credible" threat tied to the release of Todd Phillips's Joker movie next week, releasing a statement indicating that a major movie theater has been threatened with a mass shooting event. This comes amid a tumultous couple of weeks of promoting the film, which stars Joaquin Phoenix and retells the origin of Batman's arch-enemy as a meek, lower-middle-class, middle-aged guy who is seemingly driven over the edge by society. Most critics have lavished the film with praise, saying it's a thrilling psychological character drama, but many have noted how eerily similar Phoenix's Arthur Fleck is to so many mass shooters and domestic terrorists in the U.S.
UPDATE, Friday, September 27 at 5 p.m. ET: A follow-up piece at The Hollywood Reporter indicates that the military meant the memo for soldiers and their families in Oklahoma, and it was not intended to be made public. The FBI says that they are monitoring online chatter but are not aware of any current, credible threat.
"While our standard practice is to not comment on specific intelligence products, the FBI is in touch with our law enforcement and private sector partners about the online posts," the FBI's Ann Parillo told THR. "As always, we encourage the public to remain vigilant and to promptly report suspicious activity to law enforcement."
The piece also reports that the National Association of Theatre Owners, who have an open line of communication with the FBI, has not been notified by the FBI or other government agencies of any credible threat regarding Joker.
Critics and activists have warned that a movie that presents a violent and unstable character like The Joker as its protagonist will inevitably encourage some members of the audience to sympathize with or root for him, even though Warner Bros. and the filmmakers have said that is expressly not what the movie is designed to make people feel. Some point to films like Fight Club, which has been appropriated by the subcultures it was intended to critique because so many people in those groups don't understand (or don't care to see) the film's themes.
Military officials at Fort Sills Army base in Oklahoma released the statement, which was based on intelligence gathered by the FBI. It characterized "disturbing and very specific" chatter of alleged extremists on the dark web, centered on the film's opening weekend. While there is not (as far as we know) a mass shooting in the film, that particular expression of violence has been a fear because on the opening night of The Dark Knight Rises, a man who witnesses characterized as being dressed like The Joker entered a theater and opened fire, killing and injuring several patrons.
"Commanders need to be aware of this threat for Soldier and family safety and to increase situational awareness should they choose to attend the release of this movie at a local theater," reads the memorandum obtained by ABC affiliate state KSWO-TV in Lawton, Oklahoma.
Director Todd Phillips has not been as receptive to the criticisms of his film, though he said it wasn't intended to offend anyone.
"We didn't make the movie to push buttons," Phillips said in an interview with TheWrap. "I literally described to Joaquin at one point in those three months as like, 'Look at this as a way to sneak a real movie in the studio system under the guise of a comic book film'. It wasn't, 'We want to glorify this behavior.' It was literally like 'Let's make a real movie with a real budget and we'll call it f–ing Joker'. That's what it was."
He later added, "I think it's because outrage is a commodity, I think it's something that has been a commodity for a while. What's outstanding to me in this discourse in this movie is how easily the far left can sound like the far right when it suits their agenda. It's really been eye opening for me."
Joker premieres in theaters on October 4th.